“I’d love to speak another language, but…”
Over the years, I’ve heard more reasons not to learn a language than I ever would have imagined. I even used to make excuses for myself, before I learned my first new language, Spanish.
I’ve yet to hear (or come up with) a single good reason for not learning a language.
That’s right. Nada.
What about good reasons to start learning a new language? I know hundreds, and hear new ones every day! Every language learner I’ve met so far has their own personal reason for wanting to speak another language.
Why learn another language?
Here are a few of the best I’ve come across. Speaking a second language will…
1. Open Up a World of Job Opportunities
Learning a second language opens up a ton of career opportunities. I’m not just talking about freelancing or working location-independently either, though these are excellent ideas which I’ve personally used. There are lots of other ways that speaking two or more languages can improve your employment prospects.
The world is changing fast. More companies than ever are doing business in several – often dozens of – countries around the world, but they can’t do it without hiring globally-minded people who can speak at least one foreign language. Ever wanted to be like those people you see in the airport travelling to foreign countries “on business” all the time? That can be you.
Even in small, local companies, chances are that the ability to speak a second language will set you apart from other applicants.
2. Give Your Brain a Boost
Speaking a second language each day really can keep the doctor away! Study after study has demonstrated the cognitive benefits of learning another language, no matter how old you are. Memory improvement, longer attention span, and a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline, are just a few of the known positive effects of speaking two or more languages.
3. Establish Deep Connections and Cross-Cultural Friendships
I’d bet that at least once in your life, you’ve felt a pang of regret during an encounter with someone from a different culture, when you realised how the experience could be enriched by knowing that person’s language.
Has this ever happened to you? You visit a food stall at a local market while on holiday (or even in your own city), where the employees are chatting away together in their native language. You order something, in English, interrupting their fun conversation.
Another local comes by while you’re waiting, orders some food in the local language, and starts talking cheerfully with the cook about…something. A minute later, the cook stops talking and hands you your plate with a simple “Thank you, bye!”
You just missed out on an authentic cultural experience because you couldn’t join in .
Or what about this? You have a friend from another country who you enjoy hanging out with, but you only speak to each other in English. You feel a connection with that person, and think they’re a great friend. And then they mention one day about this other group of friends, who speak their native language, that they meet up with all the time. But you’ve never been invited, because you wouldn’t understand what anyone is saying.
Ok, so you can’t learn every language in the world and have an intimate knowledge of every single culture out there. But if there’s even one culture that you’d like to understand better, or even one person in your life you’d like to know better, then one of the best ways you can start is by learning to speak their language.
4. Get an Outsider’s Perspective about Your Own Culture
Trying to understand your own culture exclusively from within it is like trying to understand what a bus is like if you’ve only ever ridden inside it. You can’t see the bus’s wheels, the exterior colour, or the engine that drives it.
Want the bigger picture? You need to get off that bus and examine it from the outside.
I strongly believe that language and culture are intimately linked. Learn another language and you’ll have insight into another culture. You’ll get to “ride on a different bus” and not only see what it’s like inside and even get comfy in there, but get a clear view of your own for the first time.
Too many people go their entire lives never questioning the universal “truths” they take for granted in their own culture. But step outside this narrow scope, and it’s like stepping out of the Matrix; once your eyes are truly opened to that new perspective, you can never go back.
5. Become More Interesting and Meet More Interesting People
If your first language is English, the second most common language in the world, and yet you’ve made the effort to learn another language rather than expecting the world to accommodate your monolingualism, then you’re a rare breed indeed. This makes you interesting. People will approach you. They’ll want to talk to you. They’ll want to know what motivated you to “bother” learning another language.
Believe me, if you’re a native English speaker who speaks two or more languages, you’ll have many more lively, engaging conversations about a variety of topics than you ever would have had otherwise.
Sure, you could spend your life getting by in English everywhere you go, but that’s boring. Be fun! Be interesting! Be multilingual!
6. Stay Smart in Tourist Areas
There’s always a danger of obvious tourists being targets, or getting hassled by touts, which can ruin your experience of a place where people are actually warm and genuine. The “obvious tourist” tends to be whoever is speaking English, or some other distant tongue.
But everything changes when you use the local language.
I had heard countless stories of how a visit to the Pyramids of Giza is nothing but a frustrating chain of shooing away one tout after another, but by dressing/acting like a local and replying in (my albeit broken) Arabic the entire time, I actually didn’t feel hassled by a single person all the way there. It was actually an experience I’ll never forget!
In over a dozen years travelling the world, I’ve managed to stay sane and stay safe by attempting to blend in as best as I can, as well as responding confidently enough in the local language that potential scammers will believe you’ve been there a while, and they’ll think twice before trying to pull a fast one on you.
7. Become a Better Learner
Every time I learn a new language, I find it easier than the one before. The reasoning is simple: with every new language I study, I figure out ways to learn more efficiently. In other words, I develop language hacks.
Because of my extensive experience with this sort of trial and error, I’ve already identified many common hindrances that I can help you avoid right from the get-go, as well as language hacks that can help you learn faster.
As you spend time learning your first foreign language, you’ll identify your own inefficiencies and eliminate them. You’ll start gaining momentum in your chosen language and learn more and more quickly. Then you’ll be able to hit the ground running with the next language. You’ll be on your way to polyglotism before you know it.
8. Conquer Your Fear of “Looking Stupid”
If a foreigner walked up to you to ask for help with something like directions, and they struggled to find the right English words, and made many mistakes but were obviously trying hard, would you feel like laughing at their effort? I doubt it. You’d more likely be impressed with their courage to walk up to a stranger and speak a language imperfectly. That’s a person who has conquered their fear of making mistakes in front of others, and has managed to communicate with you and gotten help with what they need.
Can’t imagine having that sort of courage yourself? Well, if you decide to learn a language, and you start by speaking from day 1, then you’ll get over your fear very quickly. Not only will you be able to communicate effectively (note that I didn’t say “perfectly”) in a new language, but your confidence will get a huge boost, and you’ll never be held back from trying any new skill. Ever wanted to try dancing? Creative writing? Public speaking? How great would it be to shed your inhibitions and just go for it!
9. Bring Out Your Inner Mr Spock
This may sound surprising, but studies have shown that when you make a decision in your second language, you’re more likely to think logically and avoid basing your decision on emotion. In other words, you’ll become more like Star Trek’s Mr Spock.
There’s no way around it. Humans are emotional creatures. Everyone is guilty of making decisions too hastily and too emotionally. But if you learn to speak another language, you’ll learn to think in that language. And when you think about your decisions in a foreign language, that emotional bias tends to go away and you end up choosing the more logical outcome.
10. Enjoy Works of Art in their Original Language
Bollywood films, manga, telenovelas, Swah rap – the world is full of non-English works of creative art. Don’t you wish you could appreciate some of them in their original language rather than relying on badly-translated subtitles or English dubs, which lose much of the charm that made the original product popular to begin with?
You may find translations, but you'd be surprised what is lost in translation.
If you’re a fan of any type of foreign media – or you’d like to be, but aren’t interested in experiencing it in English because of all nuances lost in translation – then this is an excellent reason to start learning that new language. You’ll already have a very clear goal in mind, so you’ll know what type of vocabulary will be most useful to learn, and you can use those materials as a study aid as you progress in your new language.
11. No More Paying the Sticker Price
Tired of overpaying for gifts and souvenirs at markets when you go on holiday? It’s common knowledge that at many of these places, there are two prices: one for locals and one for tourists.
Even if you bring your best haggling game to the table, if you try to haggle exclusively in English instead of the local language, you might not get very close to that coveted “local price”. But if you make the effort to learn the local language, then you’ll start the game off with a better hand, and end up saving quite a bit more money than you would have otherwise. And the best part is that you’ll also be participating in an authentic cultural experience in the country you’re visiting.
12. Discover You Can Do It!
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve heard pretty much every excuse that people give for failing to learn a second language. Too old, not enough time, wrong genes. None of them hold water.
Whatever doubts you have, you really can learn another language. You could even hold your first conversation just seven days from now.
So What are You Waiting For?
Everyone has their own unique reasons for wanting to learn another language. But while the reasons may be different, they can all be put into action in the same way: by committing to stop making excuses, and to start speaking the language you’ve always wanted to learn.
Once you’ve held your very first conversation in a foreign language, trust me: you’ll never look back.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.